Best car in the history of What Car?

Earlier this year, we asked readers to name the best car launched since What Car? magazine first went on sale in 1973. Now it's time to reveal the winner...

Greatest cars in our history

With new car launches on ice during 2020 and some of 2021, we decided to look back at some of the greatest cars in the history of What Car?, making the case for 10 outstanding models, before asking readers to vote for the best of the lot.

There's obviously no right or wrong answer to a question like this. However, a clear winner emerged in our online polls, with the Peugeot 205 edging out the Mercedes-Benz W123 and Renault Espace for the title of best car launched in the early years of What Car?, before attracting almost half of all support (47%) in the vote for the overall champion.

Peugeot 205 GR

In that final poll, the 205 had to beat our other age group winners, with the E39 BMW 5 Series (which had been voted best car of the 1990s) taking the runner-up spot, the Volkswagen Golf Mk5 (best of the noughties) in third and the Audi A3 Mk3 (best from the past 10 years) fourth. Explaining their votes, some readers pointed to the fact that “there was a model in the 205 range for everyone”; others said “it still looks fresh today”; and some chose it because “every version drove brilliantly”.

Do you agree with the verdict? To help you decide, you can read about each of the cars that were in contention by clicking on the relevant link in the table below.


1970s – Mercedes W123

1980s – Peugeot 205

1980s – Renault Espace

1990s – Ford Mondeo 

1990s – BMW 5 Series (E39)

2000s – Volkswagen Golf Mk5 

2000s – Land Rover Discovery 3

2000s – BMW 3 Series (E90)

2010s – Audi A3 Mk3

2010s – Nissan Qashqai Mk2

If you're wondering why there's no Ford Model T or Jaguar E-Type, let us explain the rules. To be eligible, a car had to have been launched since November 1973. That’s when the very first issue of What Car? magazine appeared on the shelves of your local corner shop.

We also focused on mainstream cars that genuinely moved things on and made a difference for real car buyers, rather than hypercars that sold in tiny numbers (that's why there’s no Ferrari F40 or McLaren F1, for instance). 

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